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The Trail Blazers Core is Smaller Than You Think

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Should anyone on the Blazers roster be considered untouchable?

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Portland Trail Blazers Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports

You have questions about the Portland Trail Blazers! Whether you want to talk about Damian Lillard or delve into the intricacies of the 14th Man, we’re always happy to answer them. Be like Brandon in Sherwood and send them to blazersub@gmail.com and we’ll take a swing!

Dave,

Trade speculation is already churning. Rumors! Suggestions! Trade machine formulas! Before we get neck deep in the circus I wanna know who you consider untradeable. Which players are so core that Olshey just hangs up when other teams call about them?

Brandon in Sherwood

Can I get neck deep in circus peanuts? I love them. Or, correction...I love the first three of them before eating the fourth brings on deep and abiding regret. Kind of like Neil Olshey signing contracts this summer!

>>>cue rim shot<<<

Asking who belongs in the Blazers core brings up a deeper question: do the Blazers have a core at this point? The answer depends on your viewpoint. I’ll offer three.

“This team isn’t perfect but they’re young and headed places.”

This was the conventional wisdom around Portland when the season started. The harsh winter of 2016 has thinned the herd of adherents, but you could still make a case for key role players joining obvious keepers Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum in an expanded core. Al-Farouq Aminu is the most likely of those, cemented by his indispensable defense. Fringe members could include Maurice Harkless by dint of his fine all-around play and Allen Crabbe with his court-wide scoring ability. But it’s hard to imagine the circle stretching much farther than that and even those two are a stretch.

“The Blazers are a seedling in need of a Talent Infusion.”

In this construct the Blazers have a couple good pieces but an imbalanced roster hampers their ability to translate talent into wins. The kernel is clear: Lillard and McCollum. Trading them would cause the team to go sideways or backwards in talent and makes no sense. Everybody else is available. Occasional nice moments and potential do not a core player make.

“A 15-21 team has no core to protect."

To avoid offending the sensibilities of the faithful, perhaps we should amend by saying, “A 15-21 team with the third highest payroll in the league (and heading upwards) has no core to protect.” This viewpoint is less about blowing up the team, more about not creating sacred cows out of a couple vital organs and some hot dog meat.

The franchise has spent a fortune. Trading players is the only flexibility they have remaining. If you don’t believe the team as constructed can make it to the NBA Finals, you have to make moves. If transformative changes require moving vital players, so be it. Redecorating around the edges will not save a sagging foundation. Nobody would suggest trading a starting guard just to begin anew, but if Lillard or McCollum will bring players that balance out the roster and shore up gaping holes, the Blazers have to consider it.

What’s the answer?

That these three options leave cores of (at most) five, two, and zero respectively is an indication how much the last 36 games have exposed this team. In August we might have been able to make a credible argument for a core of seven or eight. It’s a fair bet that most people are settling on two at this point. That’s tiny.

I don’t see the front office letting go of Lillard ever. They’d not part with McCollum easily either. You have to believe that everybody else on this roster is up for sale at the right price.

I’m a little less conservative myself. I didn’t think the rotation was that packed to begin with. The roster is too young, too speculative, and has too many single-strength players. Portland’s two best players both occupy the backcourt and neither is a great defender. Their best signing and re-signing last summer both involved guards. This experiment is...strange. The Blazers have to make a move at some point. I would never suggest trading McCollum or Lillard on a whim but if I could net a comparable frontcourt scorer with defensive or rebounding chops, I’d sure consider it. I wouldn’t say Portland has no core but I wouldn’t designate any of their players as untouchable either.

The question is apt this time of year so we’ll throw it to you. Which outlook most closely reflects yours? Which Trail Blazers are untouchable in your view? Comment below.

The Most Important Move You Can Make

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—Dave blazersub@gmail.com / @Blazersedge / @DaveDeckard